When Black Women Won’t Be The Fool For Your Come-Up
Them: I see you’re doing this thing and I love it. I love it so much I want to kinda align it with my thing.
Me: Um…what does that mean?
Them: It means you just keep doing the thing you’ve been doing but you make sure to mention my thing so that we can share things.
Me: That doesn’t sound too bad.
Them: Yeah but sometimes in doing your thing, you’re going to have to work with this thing I know you don’t want to work with.
Me: Well, I’m not going to work with something I don’t want to work with.
Them: It won’t be that often but sometimes, you know. For the team to be great.
Me: Wait, what do you mean team?
Them: You know, other people who do similar things. We’ll all be doing similar things under this banner and you just keep doing your own thing.
Me: Um…but what if I don’t like the other people on the team?
Them: It’s not about liking them. It’s about working to build this bigger thing, my team.
Me: Your team?
Them: Well, really, it’s OUR team but I’ll just be the main contact person and the one who makes all the decisions and facilitates the terms and such. But that won’t affect you. You’ll just be doing your thing. Under my team’s name. But it’s still your thing.
Me: So, wait. I do my thing, but I do it under your team name that’s shared with people doing their things that I don’t actually like but should just ignore for the growth of your team?
Them: Yeah. And sometimes you are gonna be careful what you say cuz it could hurt the team.
Me: But saying the tough shit I say is part of me doing what I do.
Them: Yeah, I know and it’s great but it’s not great for the team. Do it for the team.
Me: And why should I want to be on this team?
Them: Because you need my team.
Me: I do? Why?
Them: Because even though you’re doing this thing successfully, I can do it better so you should be on my…our team where you can be better.
Me: But I’m happy with what I’m doing and I want to control who I’m doing it with.
Them: Nobody’s saying you can’t control what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with. Except when you need to do something for the team. Then you need to put the team first.
Me: I don’t think I want to be on this team.
Them: Then don’t think about it. Just be on it.
Me: Or I can pass. It doesn’t really sound like my kinda thing. Good luck, though.
Them: Your thing ain’t shit anyway. You are just a selfish diva who can’t work with others. Go do whatever you want however you want. I don’t need you.
Me: Ok, cool. That works, too.
Them: Selfish jerk.
Me: Eye roll
The above isn’t an actual conversation, but it comes close. I’ve seen and had this conversation multiple times when interacting with men hustling for their come-up. I’ve found that men often see women as a tool to help them realize their dream and they really fucking hate it when you say no. The fully fucking hate it when they can’t control you. Some will do subversive things to kinda get their way, which sucks because if I trust you, I let my guard down and it can bite you in the ass when someone you trust doesn’t respect your refusal. And shit can get a lot worse really fast, as I’m currently learning. Right now, this is my life. And I’m not saying this to be self-pitying or elicit sympathy. It’s just how shit goes. A man I considered a friend and I had a disagreement regarding our brands two years ago and since then, it’s become a series of passive aggressive moves that blur the boundaries of my brand. A blurring that I tried to rectify with terrible results. Like the above conversation. Variations of this conversation includes men asking for your input, using it, and then pretending they never spoke with you. Another variation is when you tell them that some behavior they are doing contributes to the dismissiveness and undermining of women in turbulent or abusive situations. This also happens when you tell men no or you declare yourself equal and expect to be treated as such. It happens when you decide that you’re better off not working with them and tell them. It just happens and keeps happening until you realize that maybe you need to find a much different caliber of guy to work with, if you continue working with men at all.
Sometimes the whole exchange is them trying to convince you that something good for them is also good for you, when that isn’t always the case. In many cases, it’s good for them but erases you. Or discredits you. Or changes the perception of your contribution to a project. But somehow it’s always “good for the team.”
I’ve worked in organizations like this. I’ve worked for bosses like this. I’ve had relationships with people like this. And I’m not alone. Virtually every Black woman who is growing her portfolio and her brand has experienced this type of exploitation and erasure at the hands of the men with whom they sought to collaborate. We all have stories of ideas we had to allow men to think were theirs, or that they took credit for. We all have stories of men who expect us to do their work while they receive credit for the idea. The more involved I get with building something in the geek space, the more I see it. And sadly, it’s just a revamping of the exploitation that Black people often experience when working with white leadership.
Except this time, it’s Black men on the come up, exploiting Black women and punishing us for defending ourselves.
In the past couple of years, I’ve watched a Black woman remain silent on having her name erased from phenomenal work for a project that received ridiculous attention and accolades. Her reason? Fear that saying anything would result in her being excluded from possible future projects. And while the person who received credit consistently refers people to her, without his help, she’s accused of lying about the work she did.
I’ve watched another Black woman be forcefully ejected from a convention she helped build, her contributions discarded in favor of inferior, male-created content, and a semi-public smear campaign designed to make detractors sound like bitter haters.
I’ve had another Black woman share how a Black male friend of hers tried to convince her suppress her brand and redirect the following she’s grown for years to his new project because who the fuck knows why. I guess he just figured he could do it better and with less work if she just gave the fruits of her labors to him.
And even today, I had another Black woman tell me about how she contributed her ideas and experience to improve a convention whose PR took a huge hit last year and how her work was credited to a white woman while she remains unrecognized and uncredited.
It’s tough for Black women in these Black geek streets.
The worst part is that we all walk away wondering what we did wrong and how we could have done it better. They tell us how could they have known there was a problem if we didn’t say anything. They tell us that all the work is for the team and there’s no “I” in team. We’re told that our time will come if we’re patient and just let them do the work without looking for recognition. We are the labors on a deferred reward system that often never manifests.
It’s exhausting. It’s frustrating constantly being told to wait your turn. That if we help them get further then we will benefit, eventually. And too many Black women end up sacrificed on that altar of “eventually” never seeing the promised rewards.
So we fight. We demand our due. We speak up for ourselves and defend ourselves and protect ourselves only to be told that we’re exaggerating...that we’re impatient, greedy, selfish, egotistical… We’re told that we’re creating a problem that doesn’t exist when they are the ones creating and perpetuating it. They accuse us of sabotaging their efforts and trying to hold them back when they were the ones who lied so they could claim our shine for themselves. They gaslight the fuck out of us and tell the world that we’re crazy, spiteful, and petty. And this fucked up world believes them.
And because so many people believe that bullshit narrative, we spend unnecessary time asking ourselves if we’re actually the problem. We interrogate our perceptions and our choices - did I ask for more? Did I ask for too much? Should I have spoken up more? Was I being petty? Why can’t I have credit for my contributions? Why does wanting recognition for my contributions a problem? But if I stay quiet, is it my fault for not saying anything even though every time I’ve said something, I’m accused of sabotaging the project and undermining the team? Are these really my options?
To let men tell it, yeah. The lengths that Black men will go to justify the entitlement they feel to our work and zero responsibility to crediting our labor is ridiculous. I was going to say amazing, but I can’t be amazed by reality anymore. All I can do is learn how to navigate that shit with minimal damage.
There is never minimal damage. All you need to do is look at Monique’s struggle to understand. She was paid $50,000 for a role for which she won an Academy Award. She was expected to tour and promote the nomination with no additional funds. She pushed back, seeking compensation for her work and instead was criticized, ridiculed, called delusional, and finally ignored in the industry that had just awarded her acting abilities. She hasn’t been silent about it and every time she speaks on the treatment she received by Black men and Black women who claimed to support her only to repeatedly betray her, the general public shits on her and tells her to be grateful for it. Monique has been in the trenches of the fight for equal pay for Black women in Hollywood, and despite all the hits she takes, she keeps fighting. The fucked up part is regardless of how much evidence and receipts she provides, people choose to call her crazy, selfish and a liar as they demanded that she shut up.
As much as being a Black woman is a glorious thing, our very identity is weaponized against us while being co-opted by the whiteness and then deified and worshipped by self-hating Black men. Misogynoir is rampant in our society yet, somehow, men believe they do nothing to participate in or facilitate it.
It’s fucked up. It’s fucked up when you see it happen to others and it’s fucked up when it happens to you. I’ve been aware of this shit on my horizon for well over a year. I kept seeing small incidents and I didn’t know how to address them. Initially, I’d just call that shit out but quickly learned that this caused more issues, so I sat back and watched. Then I started pulling away, making me the bad friend because I wasn’t around as much. Then came the “she thinks she’s better than us” narrative followed by the “she just can’t handle competition” narrative. Yet, when I reached out, I got weird nice-nasty treatment that I couldn’t reconcile. But I tried, knowing that the outcome was grim. I had hope we could reach a compromise that wouldn’t require my changing my agenda and instead would create a space for us to thrive as friends, but having my own distinct thing didn’t fit with his plan, so now we are in the place I was fighting to avoid. I allowed him to be verbally abusive and cruel while still trying to maintain some kind of civility. And even after all that, I told myself that we could maybe work something out but then he began a smear campaign casting doubt on my mental health, my credibility, and my willingness to collaborate with others. In fact, one response to his posts was incredibly violent and I decided to sever ties and move on as a self-protective measure.
Ten years ago, this may have worked on me. Ten years ago, I would have been beating myself up and seeking external validation of my feelings and actions. I would have been listening to all the hurtful shit they say about me, telling myself they deserve to be heard. Ten years ago, I would have been ready to do almost anything to fix this, regardless of what it cost my self-worth and my pride. Ten years ago, I didn’t understand the mechanisms at work well enough to see the role I had in the game actually being played.
But, now? Now I get it. I understand better how this shit works and how women with agency are perceived. I’ve been here before with similar antagonizers and different agendas. I know when my confidence, strength, and self-respect are being warped and weaponized against me and I know how to better maintain and protect my boundaries. I trust myself and my judgement. I know the smell of bullshit when it enters the room. I am a strong, capable, confident Black woman. I already know the narrative prepared for me and how all I need is to disagree for it to take root.
So, now I regroup. I learn the lessons I was meant to learn and use them as I move forward. Shit happens. Shit always happens. But I’ve learned how to make fertilizer and I use it liberally. It’s work and it’s a little painful, but by the end I’ll have a beautiful garden I created…and I can live with that.